Ex-circus students tumble into Greencastle

August 04, 2010|By DANA BROWN

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Janice Bartles said her grandchildren had no idea she was a circus performer.

Her kids didn't know it either, she said.

It's not that she kept it a secret, she just didn't talk about it, she said.

Before now, that is.

On Wednesday, it became the talk of the town when Bartles and about 65 fellow circus participants gathered for the first reunion of the Fred C. Kaley Gymnastics Circus, one of many reunions taking place during the triennial Greencastle-Antrim Old Home Week celebration.

"Now they are in awe," Bartles said about her family's reaction to her circus days.

Fred C. Kaley, a physical education teacher at Greencastle High School, brought the circus to town to provide a unique fitness program to the students from 1947 to 1959.


Kaley taught the students things they never knew they could do, Bill Guenon, of Boston, said.

Guenon was one of many high-flying students returning home to Greencastle for Old Home Week and the circus reunion.

"Mr. Kaley saw something in us we didn't," he said. "This guy made you do things that were unnatural like hanging upside down high above the gymnasium floor."

While learning to walk a tightrope, swing on a trapeze, flip on the trampoline, tumble, or juggle flaming torches, the students gained more than physical fitness, Guenon said.

"One word -- self-confidence," he said. "And discipline," he quickly added.

Guenon said the students often practiced well beyond scheduled practice sessions.

"We'd break into the gym on the weekends to practice," he said.

During the 12-year-run of the gymnastics circus, Greencastle was one of only two high schools offering circus classes across the United States, Guenon said.

"It was a different way," he said.

Bartles said "a sense of accomplishment" is one thing she took away from Kaley's classes.

"Gee whiz, I look back and think, 'did I really do that?'" she said.

Carolyn Bingaman, of Greencastle, said she learned balance and how to hold her body. But above all, "it was fun," she said.

"Mr. Kaley really helped all of us kids. He loved his work." Bingaman said.

She and five of her siblings performed a variety of ambitious routines. She specialized in tumbling, ladders and ropes, she said.

"It was really special," said tumbler Sonny Rendall, of Pinehurst, N.C.

"It's always there in the back of your mind. When someone mentions it, it makes you smile," Bingaman said. "They are fond memories."

Lois Pittman, of Greencastle, brought her granddaughters, Paige Kaetzel, 11, and Claire Kaetzel, 6, to the reunion.

"It's awesome," Paige said as she watched a slideshow presentation with her grandmother.

About 150 pieces of memorabilia were on display -- photographs, programs, newspaper clippings and clothing items.

"In most of the pictures of us, we're all upside down," Guenon said with a laugh.

Ed Baumgardner, of New Cumberland, Pa. showed an 8 mm film of a performance which featured him walking a tightrope while carrying a balancing bar, swinging from a trapeze high above the ground, and doing a handstand while another performer jumped through his legs while doing a forward flip.

"And you can still do that, right?" someone called out to Baumgardner.

"I've put on a few pounds since then," he said in response.

Bartles chaired the first-time reunion, which was held at Otterbein United Brethren Church. It was the first time in 50 years they had gathered like this, she said.

"We were all kind of talking about it and finally did it," Guenon said.

Kaley's daughter, Sue Kaley Dietrich, said she was moved by the gathering of her father's former students. She said her father, who died in 1977, "probably wouldn't have believed the turnout."

Bartles said the reunion was a tribute to Kaley.

"It's a long time coming but so deserving," she said.

"Everybody seems to be happy we decided to do it. Hopefully we'll have this again," Bartles said.

"It was wonderful -- awesome and amazing," she added. "It's just a good memory."

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